Enrollment increase at Cal Poly is a good idea

However, the university has to plan for influx of students

letters@thetribunenews.comSeptember 23, 2013 

Cal Poly’s vision of increasing enrollment to 24,000-25,000 students by 2022 — from an existing population of 19,800 — is ambitious, but it’s one we fully support.

We believe the university has a public obligation to provide an education to as many well-qualified applicants as possible. Over the next couple of decades, the United States will need far more college graduates — especially in science, technology, engineering and math — to replace retiring baby boomers and to keep the nation economically competitive. Cal Poly is in an excellent position to help fill that gap.

Consider: This year, 48,665 students applied for admission to Poly, 16,103 were accepted and, as of Friday, 5,882 had enrolled.

That means more than 32,000 qualified students were turned away — a pool that included an estimated 3,000-4,000 freshmen applicants with GPAs of 4.0 or better.

Granted, Cal Poly isn’t the only alternative for these students. But if the university can accommodate even a small percentage of additional students, that would be a sensible way to maximize use of taxpayerfunded facilities.

We would especially like to see more opportunities for students to transfer to Cal Poly from Cuesta and Hancock, and we hope that increasing enrollment by 4,000-5,000 students would make that possible.

There is one major caveat, however: It’s critical that university officials do an adequate job of planning for the increase.

Cal Poly is not, after all, an island. If the university adds 5,000 students, the county population increases by 5,000 as well.

That will bring pluses — local businesses will benefit from increased sales, for example, and that, in turn, will generate tax revenue for local governments and more jobs for local residents.

But there also will be more traffic on local roads; a greater strain on public services and facilities such as transportation, law enforcement, parks, beaches and trails; and of course, more demand for housing.

To their credit, university officials are acknowledging that they will need to provide more on-campus student housing to accommodate increased enrollment — even if it means adding an additional residence hall every year.

That’s easier said than done, however.

A 1,400-bed residence hall proposed near the Grand Avenue entrance is not expected to be completed until 2018 —five years from now.

If five or six years is the time it takes to complete a residence hall from scratch, then Cal Poly had better immediately embark on an intensive building campaign. Or, it may be more realistic to implement the enrollment goal over a longer period of time.

In either case, we strongly advise university officials to keep the entire SLO community — not just elected leaders — in the loop.

They are still likely to meet resistance; residents who have lived here any length of time can remember what it was like when university housing was so scarce that students and faculty were dramatically driving up housing costs, making it hard for full-time residents to compete.

With careful planning, though, we believe Cal Poly could open the door a little wider and allow more qualified young people to receive a world-class education — without harming the quality of life for the rest of us.

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